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Scottish Brexit Secretary's remarks 'highlight Tories' lack of commitment to restoring devolution'

Mike Russell said fear of Sinn Féin meant the British government was reluctant to devolve power the regions after Brexit

SINN Féin has claimed comments by the Scottish Brexit Secretary call into question the British government’s commitment to restoring the Stormont institutions.

Mike Russell claimed the Tories are refusing to devolve powers from Brussels to the regional assemblies due to a fear of how Sinn Féin might use them in future.

Mr Russell said he discussed the issue with the British government's Cabinet Secretary David Lidington this week.

British Prime Minister Theresa May has previously said Brexit will lead to more powers for the assembly in the north as well as those in Scotland and Wales.

Mr Russell said: "The reality of the situation is, that certainly David Lindington wanted to assert, was that the whole reason why devolution in Wales and Scotland had to be subverted was out of fear of what Sinn Fein might do in a legitimate assembly.

"The issue here is people's consent and people's votes. If the UK government is so afraid of people voting and consenting, then they should give up democracy all together.

"If they aren't afraid of that, then they should stop making silly allegations and attempting silly smears."

The SNP MSP also told the BBC that he had concerns over the influence the DUP has over the British government.

"We don't take part in Northern Irish politics, that is an issue for people in Northern Ireland, but it does seem that if the DUP is in a position to veto things happening in Westminster – to veto devolved settlements – then we're in a dangerous situation," he said.

Earlier this week, the Scottish Parliament voted against giving its consent to the Briitsh government's Brexit legislation. The Tory government had published proposals that would see the "vast majority" of powers in Brussels that affect the Scottish and Welsh parliaments go directly to the devolved assemblies after Brexit.

However, a "temporary restriction" on the devolved governments using some of the powers was proposed "to help ensure an orderly departure from EU law."

Sinn Féin's Alex Maskey said the remarks raised questions over British government’s commitment to restoring the political institutions in the north.

“Mike Russell’s comments stem from his discussions with the minister for the Cabinet Office so they are not without substance and, in Sinn Féin’s view, his assessment is absolutely correct," the West Belfast MLA said.

He accused Theresa May's government of being "in hock to the DUP".

"It is blatantly obvious they are abandoning any pretence of the rigorous impartiality demanded of them by the Good Friday Agreement," Mr Maskey said.

"It comes as no surprise to us that the British Government would be afraid of Sinn Féin’s approach in a local administration with increased powers."

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